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These are not the droids we’re talking about, but they’re not so far away. Want to control a robot horde? You can buy one online today.

2011-11-21

Co.Exist

Buy Your Own Robot Swarm

The Kilobot, a little robot that can coordinate with other Kilobots to perform simple tasks, is now available for purchase by anyone, from curious computer programmers to evil geniuses.

Brace yourself for the coming robot invasion. Scientists at Harvard University have developed the Kilobot--a quarter-sized robot with little toothpick-like legs that can swarm with its fellow Kilobots and act as a unit. This isn’t something that will come down the line in a decade; the robots are already on sale. You can buy them online now for all your robot swarm needs.

At $14 a pop (in construction costs), the Kilobots are actually cheap enough to create a swarm, if you’re so inclined. Unlike other robot swarm prototypes, they can be programmed en masse with an infrared controller and charged simply by moving in between a pair of conductive surfaces.

But these swarms won’t be programmed to attack us. The bots are designed to make it easy for researchers to test collective algorithms on hundreds or even thousands of robots--something that was virtually impossible before the ultra-cheap Kilobot came along.

"The Kilobot will provide researchers with an important new tool for understanding how to design and build large, distributed, functional systems," explained Michael Mitzenmacher, Area Dean for Computer Science at the Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, in a statement.

So far, scientists have figured out how to program the Kilobots to "forage," synchronize, and get in formation. Eventually, similarly controlled bots could move through disaster situations to find survivors (like these other disaster bots), create support structures in collapsed buildings, and even help the dwindling bee population pollinate crops.

K-Team Mobile Robotics is producing and distributing the Kilobot, which they bill as "a low-cost, easy-to-use robotic system for advancing development of 'swarms’ of robots that can be programmed to perform useful functions by coordinating interactions among many individuals." That, or a low-cost, easy-to-use way to learn the basics of constructing evil robot swarms.

I, Robot

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2 Comments

  • DavidARosen

    Thanks for sharing this Ariel.  These robots and their abilities and behaviors should spawn all sorts of practical, valuable ideas and applications.  There are many more applications in mining, military, exploration, quality and safety that come to mind.

    Even cleaning up chemical spills or spilled milk in the kitchen.

    What important is that robots like these capture the interest and imagination of our kids and get them to want to build something new and amazing.